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DA dismisses charges within hours of El Paso County GOP chief being cited in fatal accident

April 19, 2017 Updated: April 20, 2017 at 11:17 am
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Trevor Dierdorff. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette.

Hours after Colorado Springs police cited the head of the local Republican Party for accidentally hitting and killing a friend with his car last month, prosecutors announced they were dismissing the charges.

Trevor Dierdorff, 45, was driving in reverse on Tejon Street downtown toward a parking spot when he hit longtime Platte Floral owner Mel Tolbert, police said. Tolbert, 79, was critically injured in the March 28 crash and died April 2.

Police issued a statement about 1 p.m. that Dierdorff was being cited with careless driving causing death, a misdemeanor, and failing to exercise due care, a Class A traffic infraction. Three hours later, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office said the charges would be dropped.

"For us, it was applying the law to the facts, and we cannot prosecute this case. We told the Police Department that," DA Dan May told The Gazette. "We had told them previously that we are not able to prosecute charges in this case because the law is clear on who has the right of way."

A police spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on the dismissal.

Colorado law says pedestrians must yield to vehicles in the roadway when they're not in a crosswalk, and it is not illegal to drive in reverse on a roadway, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Tolbert was crossing Tejon Street more than 25 feet from the crosswalk and against the light when he was struck by Dierdorff's vehicle, the DA's Office reported. Dierdorff also reportedly checked his rear-view camera and did not see Tolbert when he began reversing, according to the DA's statement.

"We cannot successfully prosecute a case when the pedestrian is the one who's breaking the law and state law is so clear on it," May said.

Earlier, police spokesman Lt. Howard Black said clearly this was not intentional and police had cited Dierdorff with less serious charges while holding him accountable for causing a death.

"We have to take due care while driving," he said.

When charges were on the table, the Republican party's Vice Chairman Joshua Hosler said the organization needed to evaluate "the situation" before deciding if it would affect Dierdorff's position. Dierdorff was elected to head the party in February.

"Our main objective is to work on strengthening our position even more so as a party ... and electing Republicans," Hosler said. "We're going to do whatever we need to do to do that."

Dierdorff could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The business owners had been heading to the same meeting at the El Paso Club, where Tolbert represented the flower shop and Dierdorff his information technology consulting company.

After the death of her husband of 48 years, Dianna Tolbert said she didn't want Dierdorff to be charged.

She told Dierdorff in a text message that she knew the crash was an accident and planned to follow her husband's advice to "get over it" when things went wrong.

Instead, she wanted the community to remember Tolbert's generous spirit, something Dierdorff also recognized, promising to help "fill the gap of light and love" created by his death.

Tolbert was an occasionally secret philanthropist who constantly donated to the community, Dianna said. That spirit will live on through Platte Floral, she promised.

Tolbert was the city's seventh traffic fatality this year. Since then, there have been three more traffic deaths. At this time last year, there were seven traffic deaths.

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